The Pirates have never wanted to take James McDonald out of the starting rotation because of his upside, him just being in just his second full season as a starter, in addition to how he performed in the first half, among other factors, but going into Friday’s start, the Pirates had reached the point where another awful start from McDonald would have likely made the team have to consider taking McDonald out of the rotation, from the standpoint that the team owes it to the players with the Pirates right in the middle of a playoff race.
McDonald (11-5) though has put any of that talk to bed after an excellent performance in Friday’s 2-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. McDonald pitched six scoreless innings, allowing two hits and no runs, striking out seven and walking three.
McDonald had previously allowed 20 earned runs over his last 21 1/3 innings and went into last night’s start with an 8.71 ERA in 31 innings since the All-Star Break.
Clint Hurdle was spot on in that McDonald’s effort was a “huge step forward” and it was a big statement game for the Pirates (66-53) who now move two games ahead of the Cardinals (64-55) for the second wildcard spot.
“That’s what we need from him,” Hurdle said afterwards. “Not always zero runs and two hits. We need that focus, we need that commitment.”This was a huge step forward for us. We’re going to need him to get something done this year.”
A trend for McDonald over his last three starts is that the strikeouts are going up again and the walks are going down. McDonald has 18 strikeouts to 5 walks in his last 16 1/3 innings pitched. Another positive for McDonald is that he’s had dominant sequences in his last two starts, retiring 10 straight batters to open up Friday’s game and he retired 11 straight batters in his previous start against the Padres on August 10, before collapsing in the fifth inning.